Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Play Misty for Me" and the invention of the homicidal psycho-stalker bitch

Title: Play Misty for Me
Released: 1971
Genre: Knife-wielding psychotic suspense
Notable for: Clint's directorial debut
Coolest thing Clint does: Face-punches deranged chick through a window and over a cliff

Three-quarters of the way through "Play Misty for Me," serious analysis was suspended for a bitter fashion dispute that separates men from boys.

It happened when Clint was chased from bed in his underwear by a knife-wielding stalker. He wore white cotton briefs. You could almost see grapes and apples on the elastic waistband.

"Haa!" Andrew snorted. "Tighty-whities are for wuss bags."

It made no sense to counter by pointing out that in 1971 every man wore briefs. It made no sense to explain that until the Bill Clinton administration, when the annoying question "boxers or briefs?" was invented, society assumed no men wore boxer shorts. It made no sense to develop well-reasoned arguments.

"Pussies wear boxers," Brad said.

"You can't be serious, old man," Andrew said. "Tighty-whities are ridiculous. No one younger than, like, 80 wears them."

"Do you know what's ridiculous?" Brad asked. "It's ridiculous that any man can wear boxer shorts four inches higher than his pants without realizing only a pussy wants other people to see his underwear. What kind of man even cares about underwear? A metro-sexual wanna-be gay guy, that's what kind."

"Make sure we put this in the blog so everyone can realize how old and stupid you really are," Andrew said.

Done and done!

The movie itself was received more enthusiastically in our living room. It is the first Clint Eastwood suspense film, and we say he pulled it off well.

"Play Misty for Me" was first received by critics as a mediocre attempt at Hitchcockism, but its reputation has grown over time. It is now often credited for inventing the "Fatal Attraction" genre. Jessica Walter's marvelous portrayal of the spurned lover turned psycho-stalker reminded Andrew of Kathy Bates in "Misery." Bates won an Oscar and she had nothing on Walters in the scary-freak department.

The storyline is simple.

Clint plays a radio disc jockey and Walter is a big fan. After a couple romps of what Clint believes is meaningless sex, Walters shows herself to be deranged. She gets weirder and weirder until, inevitably, she tries to kill Clint and the woman he really loves.

By his measure, Clint's character is a wimp. After Walter ransacks his house and nearly kills his housekeeper, he never even gets a gun, for God's sake.

On the surface, this is similar to "The Beguiled" because Clint is attacked by a woman scorned. But it is a far more conventional film. In "Play Misty for Me," Clint does nothing to deserve retribution. He even tries to turn down sex with Walter when he meets her, saying he does not want to "complicate my life,"

"Neither do I," Walter responds, "but that's no reason why we shouldn't sleep together tonight."

Well, what do you expect a man to do? Clint is clearly the good guy and the good guy wins in the end.

"Play Misty for Me" was the first film Clint directed, and we have just two quibbles. The movie is set in Carmel, California, the town where Clint lived and was later elected mayor, and it includes an interlude at the Monterey Jazz Festival with no apparent point except to impress the Chamber of Commerce. Also, Clint interrupted the flow of his suspense story with a prolonged love sequence set to the entire song "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Except for the side-boob shots, we found this sappy. But it launched singer Roberta Flack to stardom, so maybe we are wrong.

Walter was marvelous, but one point should be made about the character-type she invented: The murderous psycho-bitch is big in movies, not real life.

Men share stories about nutty ex-lovers, but usually they involve acts like cutting up his underwear (boxers or briefs) and decorating her Christmas tree with the shreds. When real-life love leads to murder -- especially murder-suicide -- it is almost always the man who turns homicidal.

Still, Clint's message for manhood is pretty obvious here. Watch out where you take your pleasure, boys, because some of these ladies are crazy.

Next up (drum roll, please): "Dirty Harry."

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